The Cooperation Jar: Fostering Sibling Bonds One PomPom at a Time

4 years ago

"Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable."
- Kenyan Proverb

"Mine, mine, mine!"

If you ever feel like you're surrounded by the seagulls on Finding Nemo, say I.

Me, me. I do, I do. Pick me. Me.

My daughters' first impulses are to claim something for themselves.

Are they freakin' sociopaths?

Please ... tell me. It's okay. I'll find the right therapist.

Kidding aside, community is important. Cooperation and sharing are critical life skills. Working together encourages peace—communication, compassion, and respect. It builds and maintains successful relationships.

And my husband and I are at the forefront in helping our girls develop these skills. Children are motivated by modeling. When they witness us sharing a turn, an item, our time, or our love, they mimic. Monkey see, monkey do!

Yet it was an exercise in frustration at our house. I was (and still kind of am) Sisyphus 66 percent of the time.

"Girls, we don't talk like that," was my canned response to what I heard daily.

"Stop it," my youngest said. To which, V said, "You were the one who started this big problem, anyway, Mrs. Booty-head."

Yell. Name call. Whine.

Whoa. I'm going to lose it.

As a teacher, I love systems. So when sharing was lacking, I reached into my bag of tricks. I pulled out the cooperation jar!

The goal: It's simple. Empty the plastic Ziplock bag of pompoms into the jelly jar.

The reward: Choose a special activity to do as a family. Our aim is to foster relationships, so the reward is an experience, not an object. We've been at it for three months. Thus far, the girls have chosen movies: Epic and Despicable Me 2. The current jar is working for bowling (and dinner) at Lucky Strike.

The setup: We have one jar. Catch one (or both) being cooperative, and praise them for it. It sets a focus on the positive things our girls do. Praising them for sharing reinforces the positive behavior. When I catch one cooperating with her sister, I aim to motivate, "You're being such a good sissy!" Boom: a pompom. The girls earn a pompom by doing something cooperative and unexpected, such as ...

  • If one girl spills her milk and the other helps to clean it up.
  • If I need help with something, such as when I was struggling with a car seat yesterday, and someone lends a hand. Unprompted.
  • If I catch them doing or saying something kind to each other.
  • If I witness them wanting to do good for others, together. For example, my girls wanted to buy a dog toy and bone for my parents' dog. Or they had a lemonade stand and raised $20 to help the homeless.

The Nitty Gritty: When they do something pompom worthy, they get a pompom. When V notices only a handful of remaining pompoms, she will motivate S to do everything to get them: cleaning their room together at bedtime, helping her sister get her pajamas on, hugging each other in bounty, and loading on the compliments. It's the finish line sprint—only seven pompoms to go. It's cute to see them working so hard.

It takes the girls about three to four weeks to fill the jar—approximately one special treat a month.

Sometimes I dangle the pompoms as incentive: “If you ______, you will earn a pompom today.” Or I'll announce that today is a double pompom day.

Sometimes V asks, “Can I have a pom for that?” If the action is pompom worthy, I'll add one. It's a good opportunity to discuss how she is sharing.

Bottom line: It is easy and effective.

We set the framework in advance: What does it mean to work together?

Here's the visual:

The Cooperation Jar: Fostering Sibling Bonds One PomPom at a Time

Below are a few ways to I like to set up the spirit of sharing:

Play Games.Jumping rope, building a puzzle, playing UNO, and using sidewalk chalk all promote cooperation and good sportmanship.

Encourage teamwork. My go-to: baking. Making apple cobbler is an effective way to impart a lesson on cooperation and sharing because there is a mutually desired outcome: eating Apple Pie!

Read and listen. Children’s books are a valuable tool. When I read with my girls, I'm able to really listen to their perspective. Books naturally provide a springboard for conversation:

  • What is fun about working in groups?
  • What can be frustrating about working in groups?
  • Tell me about a time you cooperated with your friends.
  • What is something you have to do to cooperate at school?
  • When is it okay to be un-cooperative?

Two favorites:

  • The Boy Who Wouldn’t Share by Mike Reiss.
  • We Help Daddy, a Golden book by Eloise Wilkin

Songs. Maybe try a ditty to get the sharing going: Sesame Street's "Cooperation Makes It Happen" is a good start.

There are hiccups, no doubt. Striving for perfectly smooth interactions at all times is a loser's bet.

I intervene, if necessary, to teach conflict resolution. I try to act as a guide to help them come up with solutions for problems, prompting interventions with, "repair it," "rewind," or "redo."

What systems do you use at home? How does your family cooperate?


Ciao for now.


If you liked what you read, like me on Facebook at Rudeysroom and follow along. Xo.

I write about stumbling into balancing roots and wings.

My driving force comes from my mom, who always said: "I gave you roots to guide you and wings so you can fly." I've built my life around that motto. My aim is to pass on to my daughters what my family secured in me.

I want us to slow down, grow roots, and build a solid foundation. I also want to strengthen our wings and soar.

It's a balance between holding on and letting go, between planning and being.

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